Wire’s recorded return in 2002, their two companion Read & Burn EP releases, made a sizeable impact, not for its mere existence, but by the incredible sound the band unleashed therein. Calling upon the industrial sounds of Killing Joke while applying a fresh coat of shoegazer distortion glaze, Wire had reinvented themselves…again. Proving that they were not only still vital, but louder than ever to boot, Wire had pretty much completely abandoned the glossy new wave pop of their late ’80s output. A year later, they offer Send, their first new full length in more than a dozen years, tour, and then remain relatively quiet for the next few years. As it turns out, they’ve been busier than they let on, as the UK punk/post-punk legends offer the third in their Read & Burn series, which reveals more evolution and expansion in the band’s ever-morphing sonic style.
Recorded during the sessions that will eventually be released as their next official album, Read & Burn 03 offers a somewhat more abstract diversion than the band’s most recent efforts. While they haven’t quite descended into the bizarro depths of their spoken word and drone tracks on 154 (which are still pretty great), Wire steps away from the crushing distortion and industrial heaviness for the sake of stretching out their sonic capabilities on epic and dynamic songs, but rock (arguably even punk) songs all the same. Unpredictability is still a key component to the band’s modus operandi, as evident in leadoff opus “23 Years Too Late,” a song that comes in just shy of ten minutes, with spoken word parts balanced out by a catchy chorus and atmospheric synth effects hovering above a steady beat and four sinister chords. It’s a sort of culmination of their most accessible work blended with their most bizarre, and dang if isn’t exciting.
The remaining four tracks aren’t nearly as odd as that first one, but they still offer some unusual treats. “Our Time” chugs with a melancholy density, slow, yet still somewhat heavy, offering the underside of their hyperactive industro-clang on the last two R&B releases. “No Warning Given” is the catchiest track here, all glimmering chorus guitars and deep basslines, jangling gorgeously and rocking hard. It’s easily the best song the band has released in years, outshining anything on Send, and rivaling Read & Burn 02‘s “Trash/Treasure.” Closing out the 25-minute EP is “Desert Diving,” a serene, though steadily building shoegazer standout, approaching The Cure’s moody elegance without the moans and wails.
Wire never sits still. They didn’t as jittery young men in the ’70s and they still refuse to do so some 30 years later. Wire thrives on the unexpected and the uncharted. It also happens that they do well within the constraints of a pop song, so whether they play four chords or let one ring out for four minutes, the result is bound to be interesting at the very least. Read & Burn 03 is far more than interesting—it’s a restatement of their vitality. With a new full-length on the way, that’s not only a reassurance, but a reason to celebrate.
Wire – Read & Burn 01/02
Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped
My Bloody Valentine – Glider
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.